Study: Lyme disease more widespread in Bay Area open spaces

Stanford University researchers also find local ticks can carry second bacteria previously unseen in area

Lyme disease is more widespread in Bay Area open spaces than previously thought, according to the results of a new study announced this week by Stanford University researchers.

The study, called "Tick-borne Pathogens in Northwestern California," also revealed that Bay Area ticks carry a second bacteria, previously undetected in the region, that can bring on flu-like symptoms in infected humans, such as relapsing fever and severe aches and pains, according to Dan Salkeld, a disease ecologist at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

"It had been seen before in a couple of places around the Northwest, but we had no idea it was in California," Salkeld said.

The two strains of bacteria were found by researchers who fanned out into 12 open space preserves in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and dragged big white blankets through woodlands, grasslands and chaparral environments, collecting ticks that stuck to the material, Salkeld said.

Lyme disease and the second pathogen -- known to scientists by its scientific name Borrelia miyamotoi -- were detected in around two percent of ticks that stuck to the white blankets, Salkeld said.

While the pathogens were detected in a far lower percentage than in the Northeastern U.S., where around 35 % of ticks are carriers, it was still a higher result than many people expected to find in the Northwest.

"A lot of people think you just can't get Lyme disease in California," Salkeld said. "It's often under the radar, so sometimes it takes a really long time for the disease to be diagnosed."

If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause severe rashes, fever, joint pain, and debilitating arthritis, Salkeld said.

A group of concerned citizens in Portola Valley and Woodside started the nonprofit Bay Area Lyme Foundation after several residents came down with the disease, but did not have it appropriately diagnosed for months.

"It often goes under the radar here," Salkeld said.

The Foundation funded the Stanford study to begin to understand just how common Lyme disease is in the region.

"Lyme disease is widespread throughout the Bay Area," Salkeld said. "We found it in every single (test) open space, and every type of terrain."

For Bay Area residents who take advantage of the vast array of parks, trails and open spaces in the region, some simple precautions can be taken to avoid being bitten by ticks and potentially infected with Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses.

Hikers, walkers and bikers should try to stay in the middle of trails, avoiding brush, woodpiles and logs, Salkeld said.

After spending time outdoors, residents should check themselves thoroughly for ticks, especially their hair.

Pets should also be thoroughly checked for ticks after a walk in the woods, Salkeld said.

Anyone who develops symptoms -- fever, headaches, rashes or fatigue -- should consult a doctor familiar with Lyme.

— Bay City News Service


Like this comment
Posted by Barto Nella
a resident of Alamo
on Feb 20, 2014 at 7:56 am

Here's a link to a story in this fine publication from five years ago, that went 'viral,' or at least bacterial. Its author still hears from folks all around the country who are grappling with these nasty illnesses. Prevention beats the very helloutta cure! Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by FanDanville
a resident of Danville
on Feb 20, 2014 at 8:57 am

Scary info!

Barto Nella, Thanks for the Web Link.

I go hiking in the same hills where the Alamo woman got her Lyme Disease.
Now I'm unsure about hiking.
If a tick can be so small.....

What is a proper Tick Check? I'll have to look it up for reminder.

Like this comment
Posted by Tania
a resident of Alamo
on Feb 21, 2014 at 10:10 am

Our daughter was diagnosed with Lyme Disease 13 months ago after countless doctor's appointments trying to determine what was wrong and years of her complaining of fatigue and joint pain. One doctor told us "you can test for Lyme Disease but we don't have Lyme Disease around here". We knew people with Lyme Disease and the light bulb went on for us. One month after that comment, we got her diagnosis.

The problem is, it isn't on our medical community's radar so people are being misdiagnosed or going undiagnosed. Lyme Disease is considered an east coast disease. Event the "experts" perpetuate this belief when interviewed on National TV. The rangers at Lafayette Reservoir will tell you several of their rangers have had Lyme Disease. I know at least a dozen people from this area with Lyme. I just heard last week of another diagnosis of a Walnut Creek parent.

Remember, there are different types of tests. The Western Blot tests sanctioned by the CDC are not very sensitive, requiring 2 out of 3 bars (they just got funding to develop more sensitive tests) so you could test negative when in fact you are infected. We chose a lab (Igenix) whose Western Blot tests are more sensitive, requiring 5 out of 10 bars. If caught early, it requires a short term of antibiotics. If not, it could take make longer and cause irreversible damage. Our daughter has been under treatment for over a year but is showing great improvement. Another question looming is if chronic Lyme can be cured or if it goes into remission only to come back when your immune system is compromised. There are more questions than answers at this point. If you are interested, there is a documentary on Netflix called Under Our Skin.

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